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Data: Sentieo; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

S&P 500 executives are talking about a recession much more frequently than they were last year.

By the numbers: There were 115 mentions of "recession" or "macroeconomic conditions" last month — more than 3 times the 35 mentions during the same time frame in 2018, according to an analysis of earnings calls by research platform Sentieo.

What they're saying:

  • "Geopolitical and macroeconomic conditions have contributed to our customers having a more cautious outlook." — Stephen Milligan, Western Digital CEO
  • "We are undertaking and accelerating a number of initiatives to improve our results. It's not in our DNA to just stand around and wait for macroeconomic conditions to improve." — Tim Cook, Apple CEO
  • "If throughout the year, we see a change of those assumptions that there is in fact a recession and a bear market is coming, we’ll wait a bit, before we see evidence – total evidence of that, and we’ll adjust our expenses." — Henry Fernandez, MSCI CEO

Last year, mentions hit a high with 194 in November. Before that, the number of mentions hit 360 in February of 2016, after widespread concern about slowing growth in China.

  • Yes, but: Talk of a recession remains well below levels seen during and after the financial crisis, with executives mentioning the word "recession" 762 times in January 2009.

If history is a guide: S&P executives will ramp up talk about a recession when there's actually one underway — not beforehand.

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